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Thursday, September 09, 2021

MORE MEDICAL FUN...

Another day off from dialysis spent in the medical maze.

This morning I got up early and hauled my ass up to Mount Sinai for a 10:30 podiatry appointment.

A while back I broke a leaded pint glass here in my apartment, and though I thought I had thoroughly cleaned up all of the shards, one eluded me, and I did not notice that I had stepped on it until I saw thick trails of blood on my floor. I had stepped on it with the thickly-callused portion of my left big toe — due to having feet as flat as a paddle, I put a lot of my body weight on my big toes, hence their perpetually armored state — so I di not feel the damage being done, but once aware of it I addressed the wound with proper cleaning and filed dressing. (When you have as many medical issues as I do, your bathroom becomes a ready-to-rock triage supply area.)

Once admitted to see the podiatrist, a Dr. Blustein, she examined the toe and immediately began debriding the callus and extraneous dead flesh with a deft hand. Once the debriding was completed, she applied a purple substance to the area that will aid in drying it out. 

She then applied an antibiotic ointment and wrapped the toe with paper tape, noting that I was to wrap it only in paper pate, as elastic bandages do not allow the area in question to wick out moisture. I was also given a padded surgical shoe that I am to wear while the healing takes place, and I am to return in a month so Dr. Blustein can assess my healing's progress.

 

I am not digging the shoe, as it fits poorly and could really use a heel strap to keep the rear secure and avoid the patient's heel from popping out, but I have no choice in the matter and therefore just have to butch up and deal with it.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

AURAL TORTURE ON THE B63 BUS

It's my day off, so I hied myself down to the McDonald's on 9th Street for my day-off treat of a double Filet O' Fish sandwich. Upon finishing my meal, I caught the B63 bus up the Avenue to my stop. My ride was maybe ten minutes long, but it seemed like an eternity, thanks to a toddler screaming "The Alphabet Song" at the top of his lungs. That was bad enough, but he did it in stacatto , Shatnerian bursts, so it sounded like "A, b, c, d...E, F,G !!! (pause) H, i, j,k...L, M, N, O,P!!!" This was repeated over and over, with the volume escalating while the bored mother adjusted her jihjab.

That song is aural torture in the first place, but when trapped on a moving bus and being forced to hear it on endless loop as screamed by a toddler? It's like waterboarding.

 

Friday, August 27, 2021

FRIDAY GROUSING

 

It's once more Friday, the most welcome finale to another week in my endless cycle of life-sustaining medical treatment.

I know the wait to receive a donor kidney is long, but there are days when I feel like Sisyphus, damned to an eternity of pushing a boulder uphill, only to have it once more roll back down. For me it's enduring on serious medical issue and beating it , only for yet another to step in and make life interesting, in this case dialysis, AKA a years-long waiting list accented by painful and nausea-inducing treatment.

In the words of the late Sam Kinison, "It never ends! IT NEVER ENDS!!! AAAAAUUUUUUUGH!!!"

Thursday, August 26, 2021

HOW TO DRAW DC SUPER HEROES and SUPER-VILLANS (written by Yours Truly)

             Get yours today! (Not that I'm seeing any royalties out of this. It was strictly work-for-hire.)  

My mother just called to tell me she'd received her copy of the HOW TO DRAW DC SUPER HEROES AND SUPER-VILLAINS book that I wrote, with artist Scott Koblish doing the heavy lifting as the illustrator. I had flipped through it when I received comps, but my mom told me that there were photos and bios of me and Scott in the back, a detail I had missed upon first perusal. 

 


It should also be noted that Amazon lists Scott as the author/illustrator, an error that is reportedly being corrected. Typical of Yer Bunche's luck...

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

ONE YEAR IN THE BATTLE

 Today marks the one-year anniversary of me going on regular thrice-weekly dialysis. Oh, YAY...

PUNCTURED!!!

(art by Wally Wood)

Among the many things I hate about dialysis is the removal of the bandages after treatment. 

 Once one's surgically-created fistula has matured enough, the tubes that facilitate the dialysis process are connected to one's fistula forearm via two needles, one arterial and one venous, and as the fistula becomes more amenable to being penetrated, the gauge/size of the needles increases so that the hollow needles can more easily allow the flow of blood both into and out of the body. 

A simple diagram.

As this process removes, filters, and replaces one's entire blood supply, along with removing excess fluids/uria that one's kaput kidney are no longer capable of purging from the body, wide-gauge needles are slowly worked up to, and I am at the point where my regular needles are the big ones. Consequently, when the needles are removed at the end of a day's session, the entry points must immediately be tightly bandaged, lest the area quickly wind up looking like a scene out of BLOOD FEAST (1963).

When I get home from treatment, along with the usual puking and inability to eat anything until 11pm or later, I have to wait several hours, usually around five or six, before removing the day's bandages. When the nurses bind the wounds, they have to make them as tight as possible to prevent leakage, over which I wear a compression sleeve to aid the process, and sometimes the removal of the tape and wadding can be painful due to the glue on the tape adhering to well to my atopic dermatitis-scarred skin, and it can even take a chunk out of me when removed.

That said, when removing the bandages, I have to have strong over-the-counter bandages at the ready to deal with any possible spillage. Since the wounds are basically small holes, I generally favor Band-Aid Tru Stay Clear Spots, which are small adhesive patches just a tad smaller than a square postage stamp, which makes them the perfect unobtrusive bandages for the punctures in question. I also have a bottle of alcohol close by to further clean the area once the initial wrappings are off and before the Clear Spots are applied. The problem is that before the nurses wrap the punctures, they cover the fresh wounds with an individual medical band-aid each before applying the absorbent wadding and then tightly wrapping everything from there. Removing the medical band-aids requires a good grip, as the adhesive is strong, and when removed, any healing over is undone by ripping off the band-aid. The venous puncture is barely an issue, as it yields barely a pin-prick's worth of blood that's easily swiftly covered, but the arterial puncture can be a whole other ballgame.

It's there in the name: It's an artery. Therefore, once opened, the vino flows quite freely, Fortunately, it's a small puncture wound, but that does not stop blood from flowing quickly, no matter how prepared one is for the patching of it. I have to daub at the arterial site with dry medical wipes and hope that the flow slows long enough for me to apply a clear spot, but sometimes a clear spot just isn't enough and I have to cover the blood-soaked clear spot with the more aggressive and stretchy Band-Aid Water Block Tough Strips. As the name clearly states, these are durable items that stretch to allow the user to regulate the needed tightness of binding, in effect serving as a first aid answer to duct tape, and being perfect as a patch for an arterial site puncture.

I had this on my mind because I just got through changing out today's bandages (applied by the mighty Shaunda), and it was not a pretty site. If I had not gotten quite skilled at this procedure over the past several months, my bathroom's surfaces would have ended up looking like a minor crime scene, and even with my relative adeptness, there was still a decent amount of sanguinary cleanup required. But my stretchy medical duct tape is in place and all is right in the land.

 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

THE STREET FIGHTER'S LAST REVENGE (1974)

Sonny Chiba as Takuma Tsurugi returns for one final bout of karate mayhem.

I first saw THE STREET FIGHTER'S LAST REVENGE with the American dub, which involves intrigue surrounding factions warring over two tapes containing a valuable formula for synthetic heroin. What I did not know at the time was that the U.S. dub had been edited to remove some of the gore — in the Japanese version, Chiba rips a guy's heart out, which could have garnered an X — the order of some scenes had been rearranged, and that the plot about heroin was added by the American distributors, completely altering the Japanese version's story. The fuckery with the American version forced the film to make little or no sense, and I hated it when I saw that version in the '90's.

Then, a few years ago, one of my favorite "grey market" online video stores began selling a set of all three Street Fighter movies, uncut and with the option of watching them with English dubs or in Japanese with subtitles. I snagged the set and watched all of the films in Japanese for the first time, and the native language made a big difference in re-experiencing them. In the case of THE STREET FIGHTER'S LAST REVENGE, seeing the original version completely reversed my opinion on the the film, and watching it again yesterday cemented its place in my head as my favorite of the sequels, as the liveliness of the first film returns somewhat. It's not as savage as the first installment, but it's a solid chopsocky actioner. So, for my one-man Sonny Chiba memorial wake, I  re-watched all of the Street Fighter movies, and this time I've finally made peace with RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER. It's mediocre, yes, but overall it has its moments, is entertaining enough to sit through, and Chiba is excellent while in what he must have known was just a "meh" sequel. THE STREET FIGHTER'S LAST REVENGE, however...

The story is solid, with Chiba's character staying more or less his usual asshole self, only having upped his game into the realms of a 1960's spy boom hero for this third outing. He's still a mercenary jobber for assorted underworld interests, but now he utilizes MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-style masks as disguises and has a slick, James Bondian apartment.

Tsurugi fights for the film's Mcguffin,  a tape containing a confession worth killing for.

This time around, Tsurugi is hired to break out a criminal who's about to be interrogated by the police. That daring and clever breakout places and unwitting Tsurugi in the middle of two factions who seek to obtain a tape containing a damaging political confession. (The heroin plot found in the American dub has absolutely nothing to do with what was going on in the Japanese original.) Though Tsurugi delivers on the jobs he is paid for, he is double-crossed by his employers over and over again, and as we have previously seen, he is not a man to take being fucked-over lightly...

There's more mayhem in this one than in RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER, and the film moves at a lively pace. It's replete with karate fights, and the legendary Etsuko Shihomi (SISTER STREET FIGHTER, DRAGON PRINCESS, THE YOUNG ARISTOCRATS, MAKI'S 13 STEPS) pops up as a young but skilled Chinese karate fighter for hire. 

Tsurugi cops a cheap feel off of Etsuko Shihomi.

There's also Reiko Ike as an underworld seductress, and she is by far the most memorable and well-developed female character in the entire trilogy. A Flemingesque avaricious viper with a hot pussy who will shift alliances in a nano-second, as long as her shenanigans will make her rich.

Tsurugi cozies up to Reiko Ike during a romantic ride though a carwash.

THE STREET FIGHTER'S LAST REVENGE would almost be on par with the original if it had more blood and overall viciousness. What nastiness it dies have is fun, though, and there's Mister Black, a ludicrous American character who's another of the seemingly endless legion of martial arts thugs for hire, only this guy runs around in full-on Mexican attire, complete with huge sombrero. 

  Mister Black: the Frito Bandito with laser fingers.

He claims to possess psychic superpowers that allow him to cut through wood and metal, so our anti-hero must somehow contend with a man with laser fingers. Tsurugi has a couple of encounters sombrero man and susses out the source of his alleged superpower, with their final set-to occurring in a crematorium, where Tsurugi lures the guy into a coffin-style box that sends him straight into the the crematorium's incinerator while the guy was very much alive. His screams as he's dispatched into the incinerator and he realizes what's about to happen to him are horrifying.

Anyway, none of the several bad guys who fuck Tsurugi over during the course of the story make it out alive, and all meet terrible fates. in short, THE STREET FIGHTER'S LAST REVENGE does not disappoint, is flat-out the best of the sequels, and is a good installment with which to end the series. Personally, I would have loved to see more of Takuma Tsurugi adventures, perhaps even one where he meets his inevitable and nasty fate, but Sonny Chiba chose to move on and play other types of characters. Good on him, but his Takuma Tsurugi is indelible, and he is among my Top 5 martial arts movie protagonists.

Bottom line: THE STREET FIGHTER'S LAST REVENGE in its Japanese version is simply terrific and absolutely worth your time.

R.I.P, Sonny Chiba, dead at age 82, felled by the global scourge that is COVID-19. Thank you for entertaining us for so many years, and for being an all-around badass and sweet human being. You will not be forgotten.

Poster for the Japanese theatrical release.


RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER (1974)

The legendary Sonny Chiba returns as Takuma Tsurugi, once more facing off against rat bastard mafia scumbags. (Not that Tsurugi is himself any kind of a nice guy, but whatever...)

The international plague of COVID-19 continues its inexorable march, and just the other day it took one of the legends of martial arts cinema. Yes, COVID-19 felled the mighty Sonny Chiba ate age 82, and now the legendary Street Fighter fights no more. Upon hearing the news, I was devastated, so, in Chiba's honor, I watched a triple-feature of the Street Fighter series as an impromptu wake for the martial artist/actor who had so thoroughly entertained me for nearly forty years. My thoughts on THE STREET FIGHTER, the landmark 1974 Japanese answer to ENTER THE DRAGON that was reportedly the first film to be award an X-rating for violence rather than sexual content when released in the United States, can be found here, so let's go over the first of its sequels.

Released a swift three months after its predecessor, RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER, though better than I usually give it credit for, is a tepid confection indeed when stacked against the masterpiece that preceded it. The plots beats are virtually the same as those in the first film — Takuma Tsurugi engages in assorted violent mayhem before being hired for a Mafia job his code of honor will not let him accept, so he fucks over those who hired him and spends the rest of the movie decimating those they send against him in retaliation for his betrayal ; we also get a montage of Tsurugi's rigorous training, and he's stuck with a goofy Okinawan sidekick (Yoko Ichiji), only this time the sidekick is a young woman — with the proceedings padded out with reuse of the flashback about his fathers execution during WWII (and his father's memorable advice to him as a child) and bits of business from the Seikubon dojo sequence and fight against Grandmaster Masaoka (Masafumi Suzuki). And though he was quite decisively killed by having his throat manually and gorily ripped out by Tsuguri at the end of THE STREET FIGHTER, vengeance-seeking Masashi Ishibashi as Shikenbaru ("Junjo" in the U.s. dub of both THE STREET FIGHTER and this sequel) returns (complete with flashback footage of their last encounter at the previous film's climax, further padding things out), seemingly from the dead, to once more engage with Tsurugi, only this time somehow equipped with bionic vocal chords. Oooookaaaay... (Shikenbaru notably ends up suffering the same electrified fate as Oddjob in the 1964 James Bond classic, GOLDFINGER.)

Having seen the classic original, watching RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER is a textbook case of the filmmakers playing it safe and just more or less giving the audience the same film again, only this time with the gore and flagrant brutality considerably neutered. Though there are plenty of fun karate fights throughout, they are neither as lively nor as creative as those found in the first film, and the climax is very much a rehash of the first film's, with Tsurugi making mulch of dozens of opponets, though this time in a building instead of on a rain-swept oil tanker. That said, there is a memorable bit where Tsurugi inexplicably finds himself atop a snowy ski slope where he is attacked by two weapons-wielding assailants that he makes short work of, with the coup de grace being him slugging a guy so hard in the back of the head that he knocks the bastard's eyeballs out of their sockets. 

                                                             An eye-popping encounter.

That moment lives up to the glory of the initial installment, but it's diamond found in one's truck stop sushi. Nonetheless, an acceptable and entertaining way to spend 85 minutes.

Extra points for the superb foley work. The numerous slaps, crunches, and squish noises greatly enhance the fight scenes.

Poster for the Japanese theatrical release.

Poster for the U.S. theatrical release.

 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

THE STREET FIGHTER FIGHTS NO MORE

Requiescat en pace to the martial arts cinema icon Sonny Chiba, taken from us by the scourge of COVID-19 at age 82. His THE STREET FIGHTER (1974) was reportedly the first film to earn an MPAA rating of X for violence rather than sexual content, and it remains my favorite karate/martial arts film that takes place in the then-present day. If you have never seen it, I cannot recommend it enough.

From 2015, here's the raw footage of yours truly expounding on THE STREET FIGHTER and its meaning for and impact upon me personally, minus script and on the floor at a now-defunct Park Slope comics shop. (special thanks to Bill Scurry)


Saturday, August 07, 2021

THURSDAY NIGHT BURLY Q AT FREDDY'S

My dear friend Tracey bar-tends at Freddy's, a local bar here in Brooklyn, and every Thirsday night they stage a burlesque show featuring local talent. Here's a taste. Our performer seen here is the one and only Kita St. Cyr.



Thursday, July 29, 2021

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE: REVELATION Part 1 (2021)

The Masters of the Universe are back, for a new generation, and led by Teela. (Sorry, He-Man boosters.)

After hearing a lot of the complaining from lifelong He-Man fans, I decided to watch MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE: REVELATION to see what all the fuss was about. I figured I'd get the idea with just Episode 1, but I ended up quite invested and watched all five episodes. It was really good, and if He-Man had previously been anything like this iteration, I would have been down with it back in the days.

That said, I can see why the He-Man fan base hates it. Unlike the '80's original, it actually has an involving story, rich characterization, an all-star voice cast that nails it, and it's not exactly the same bland, actionless shit repeated ad infinitum. And if you showed up for He-Man as the protagonist, he's hardly in in it, which to me is only an improvement. He was always a nothing character, so why not shift the spotlight? That's exactly what they did, in essence making this "The Teela Show," which opened the doors for giving the rest of the cast actual characterization that was more than one-note. Hell, it even makes Orko awesome. (Yes, you read that right.)
 
So I say ignore the whining of incel man-babies who can't handle a female lead. It's a fun sci-fi/fantasy series that thankfully skews older than the original, and this five-episode Part 1 leaves off with a good number of questions to answer and situations to resolve, so I eagerly await the continuation. I just hope that the showrunners stick to their vision of the show and don't cave to its detractors. Seriously, it's good, simple fun done very, very well. Far better than the original ever was.


Tuesday, July 13, 2021

WHEN THE WELFARE WARLOCK COMES A-KNOCKIN'

So, last night a dear friend who is renovating a house in Fresno, California filled me in on how some shirtless weirdo had earlier that day been on her house's porch, looking around, acting sketchy, and testing the windows. My friend, being the smartest person I know, rigged the place with tight security tech, including motion detectors and cameras, so she was alerted when the guy showed up. 
 
(sung) "Mystery Daaaate...Are you ready for your Mystery Date? Will he be a dream? Or will he be a dud?"
 
My friend eventually went out and confronted him, remaining calm and speaking in soft, reassuring tones, as is her nature. She asked "Can I help you?" and the guy politely conversed with her, asking questions about the house renovation — too many questions, if you get my drift, and that was not lost on my sharp-as-a-blade friend — and being odd in general, My friend says the dude was either mentally ill or tripping hard on something, so she treated him with kindness in order to lull him into behaving himself. As California is in the midst of a crippling heatwave, she offered the guy a bottle of water, which he gratefully accepted, and then she told him it was time for him to leave. He politely complied and wandered off, so Suzi went back inside. She also called the police and a big friend who lives across the street.
 
(Sung) "Open the door... to your...Mystery Date...
 
Her friend came outside and pretended to do yard work while keeping an eye on the cosmic traveler. Suzi also kept an eye on him via her security cameras, and she tells me that the guy noticing her garden hose and performing some kind of tripped-out ritualistic dance with it was something I should have been there to witness. Anyway, shortly after he began his dance, the police showed up, my friend had alerted the cops to the guy being non-threatening, and she also asked them to be nice because he never threatened her or harmed her in any way.
 
A while later, a cop, who happens to live a few house down the block, came over and filled her in on what happened after they took the welfare warlock away. Turns out he's a registered sex offender. Oh, joy!

Friday, July 09, 2021

BLACK WIDOW (2021)

                        Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena (Florence Pugh): Total badasses.

So, BLACK WIDOW is good enough to have held my attention, but it’s definitely a lesser Marvel flick. Not bad, per se, just lesser.

The plot finally gives us an origin for Natasha, and it's a tragic one, revealing more secrets of the Red Room. It opens with a look at barely-pubescent Natasha and her six-year-old sister, Yelena, living an idyllic life with their mother and father in Ohio. But, this being an espionage story, nothing is as it seems, and soon enough the girls are turned over by their father and drugged, subsequently spirited away for Red Room indoctrination. If you were paying attention to details dropped by Natasha in the AVENGERS films, you have a pretty good idea of what she and Yelena endured while being molded into elite professional killers. The story then skips ahead by 21 years, and we see Natasha still on the run after the events of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. After that, I will spoil nothing, other than to state that the now-grown Yelena is still under the mind-control of the Red Room, but not for long...

Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow has only really shined in a handful of the MCU movies, and while I'm sure the scriptwriters and directors instructed her to mostly play Natasha as something of a personality-void badass — with the exception of her turns in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER and AVENGERS: ENDGAME — the blandness of her standard performance as Natasha makes me sad because I love the character as portrayed on the page, and little or none of what endeared me to her in the first place — 50 (!!!) years ago — has been present onscreen. Instead, this film is utterly stolen by Florence Pugh as Yelena Bolova. Once freed from the stranglehold of the Red Room, she displays personality to burn, which is good because she's clearly being set up to replace Natasha after the events of AVENGERS: ENDGAME. David Harbour and Rachel Weisz are also quite good as Nat and Yelena's parents, and that's all I'll say on that.

The film does not need to be 133 minutes long, and at times it has serious issues with pacing, a state of affairs familiar to anyone who's seen a Bond or Bourne movie over the past 25 years, and it’s needlessly over-long at 133 minutes, nearly ten of which are credits. Other than it being set in the MCU, it’s just another big-budget espionage flick. It takes place immediately after Captain America: Civil War, and it should have been released in sequence. Releasing it now comes as a case of too little too late. The time to strike would have been during the height of Avengers-Mania, when everyone and their parakeet would have shelled out the movie theater ticket price to see it. I was fortunate to have access to a friend's Plex account, and thanks to that I can honestly say that the film is in no way worth the thirty bucks Disney+ wants for it.

Lastly, by now you all know the drill, but I'm saying it anyway: If you do allow yourself to be rooked for thirty bucks, make sure to stay for the stinger at the end. I am intrigued...

Poster for the theatrical release.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

APARTMENT ARACHAEOLOGY

 

More apartment archaeology. 
 
During my Marvel years, I would occasionally pick up sleazy Mexican comics from newsstands in the subway, and next to HEMBRAS PELIGROSAS my favorite was ULULA, a weird blend of telenovela, crime story, horror yarn, and porn. The titular Ulula is apparently a beautiful fashion model who gets it on with a succession of generously-endowed bohunks In extremely graphic illustrations that leave nothing to the imagination, while her "fancy" photographer gets it on with men, equally graphically.
There's something for everyone in this series, and the icing on the cake is that Ulula is a werewolf. Depending on the issue, her status as a lycanthrope often will not figure into the story at all — as is the case with this issue — and instead it's just about some hot chick with a Soo Catwoman hairdo getting endlessly plowed. 
 
First wave British punk scene fashion icon Soo Catwoman.
 
There's even an issue in which she gets pregnant and gives birth to a daughter, and the birth is illustrated in a way that is simultaneously meant to be a gross-out and erotic. I have it around here somewhere. 
 
I would love to see this series translated, just so I could know what the hell is going on in the story, if there even is one, as nearly every page is dominated by tits and ready-to-go genitals.

ANCIENT HISTORY: "FEAR IN B-BASEMENT"


This was drawn at SUNY Purchase during the spring of 1986, when an acquaintance gave me what I thought was a date or some kind of dried fruit, but was instead a big chunk of Lebanese hashish. It was a Saturday and I ate it during breakfast in the dining hall, and once I ingested it, the guy, a friend of a friend, told me what it was. I was most displeased, and after about 20 minutes its effects began to kick in.

I hauled ass back to my dorm room and sequestered myself in its cozy confines for the next twelve hours, only occasionally interacting with people whom I called and invited in so I would not go insane. I spent hours playing records in an attempt to ground myself, but I was off on an unintended cosmic voyage. You know the sequence in WATCHMEN where Adrian Veidt eats a ball of hashish and has a cosmic vision/epiphany? I had much the same experience, and I freely admit that on a deep level it changed me and made me more aware of my inner demons.

Anyway, I was too deep into internal cosmic travel to sleep, so I drew this with a Sharpie. Anyone who went to Purchase will remember the oppressive presence of bricks everywhere, so the bricks here were drawn with an intentionally unsettling texture.

While angry at being given a super-string edible without first being informed of what it was — my first experience with such, but far from the last — the experience led to enlightenment, and in the years following, I have gone for hashish whenever it was available. A co-worker in the Marvel Bullpen was from Holland, and when she went for a visit with family in Amsterdam, she sent me a generous supply of hashish that she carefully wrapped so its scent would not be detected, and she further masked the scent by stuffing the hashish inside a half-eaten box of Crunch 'N' Much, so I got two kinds of goodies when I received the package. (I had her send to my apartment, but I had her use "Kyoshiro Nemuri" as the recipient's name.) I used what she sent for a now-legendary batch of serious brownies that I served at a big apartment party. Much cosmic awareness was achieved that evening.

Great. Now I want a hash brownie...

 

Monday, July 05, 2021

REGARDING THE 4th OF JULY, WITH CAPTAIN AMERICA

 

"Hi. I just wanted to drop by and say that while most of you are celebrating the 4th of July as a day of freedom and patriotism, don't forget that the ancestors of Americans of color were enslaved or were being horribly slaughtered in a campaign of genocide conducted by the U.S. government. To a lot of Americans who are black, red, yellow, or what have you, the fireworks and parades and all of the 'Rah-Rah!!!" patriotism of the 4th comes off as a load of — pardon my French — bull pucky, and nothing more than an excuse for drunken white people to puff out their chests and hoot and holler while blowing off their fingers with M-80's. 
 
"Patriotism is fine, but we should never forget that the fabric of our great nation was woven by everyone, not just by white people, like we were taught in the school texts of earlier eras. Remember the black slaves who were stolen from their homeland, brought here and pressed into hard labor at the end of a bullwhip. Remember the female slaves who were casually raped and impregnated by their randy owners, men who did not think of them as human, but rather as warm, living objects with which to sate their lust, and the feelings of those convenient objects be damned.
 
"Remember the proud Native Americans, whose cultures were considered 'barbaric' and therefore had to be wiped off the face of the earth. That 'noble' goal was achieved by the committing of government-mandated campaigns of genocide that also featured merry lashings of rape, torture, and seizing of land.
"And let us not forget all of the immigrants who came to this country because of its promise of welcome for all, only to find prejudice, racism, exclusion, and all manner of intolerance.
"Also, we should not forget the LGBTQ community, who, despite their more aggressive visibility in recent times, have been with us since the dawn of humankind, and have contributed to the richness of cultures all around the globe, including our fair nation. Let me tell you, America without John Waters would be a sad place indeed.
 
"So, on the 4th of July, celebrate all who make up the great American melting pot. Remember that anyone with love for this country and for all of its people can be a Captain America. Not just some lucky, scrawny white boy from Brooklyn. We are all in this together, and we should never forget that."

Sunday, June 27, 2021

TODAY I AM 56

 

My official 56th birthday portrait. (photo by Tracey McTague)

Thursday, May 27, 2021

GOOFUS

A friend posted a parody of HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN's legendary GOOFUS AND GALLANT page on his Facebook, and it brought to mind the following tale from my childhood as I recounted it on my friend's post's comments thread:

Goofus and Gallant was my favorite part of Highlights, strictly for its heavyhandedness and for Goofus's assholism.

It struck home for me because my mom had a friend, Althea, who was a divorcee with a son a year or two younger than me who was named Eric, and he was without question the worst, nastiest, most ill-behaved child it has ever been my misfortune to have been forced to associate with, and when we were in the same space because of our mothers' friendship, I was the unintentional Gallant to his all-too-real Goofus.

Mom and Althea were two recent divorcees of color in the Westport/Weston climate of the mid-1970's, so they turned to each other for support. Whenever my mom would have that woman over, she would invariably bring her horrid spawn and we would all go out to somewhere like a mall, where he would always pick the perfect spot and moment in which to act like an unconscionable turd. Some examples:

When Eric demanded some money to buy a snack, his mother told him he would have to wait until dinner, which he did not like, so he snatched her purse, emptied it onto the floor, picked up her coin change, threw it in such a way as to scatter it, and loudly exclaimed (in order to call attention to himself and his mother) "Now, pick it up!!!" His mother, totally broken by her son's behavior after years of such shit, sheepishly complied, much to the indignation of my mom.

The classic example, however, was one time when we were all out at a lake with a fishing pier, and his mother said or did something to set him off, so he looked around for anything that he could cause trouble or embarrass her with, and his sights settled on an innocent fisherman's huge and clearly expensive and well-stocked tackle box. He walked over to the tackle box, gave his mother an evil grin, picked up the tackle box, and promptly chucked it into the lake. It was a deep lake, so retrieving it was not an option. Needless to say, the owner was PISSED, the police were called, and Eric's mother had to hand the guy every bit of cash she had on her at the time.

For me, that was the final straw, as I had endured too much of Eric's asshole behavior and his mother's refusal to give him a well-earned ass-kicking for about two years, so when my mom and I got home from that mortifying situation, 9-year-old me said to my mother "Mom, you know I am not a bad kid and that I would not do anything stupid if you were to leave me here alone in the house. I promise you that, but I'm telling you right now that I absolutely refuse to ever go anywhere with Althea and Eric ever again. He's horrible, she just takes it, and it's always embarrassing and stressful. I AM DONE." Surprisingly, my mother did not object to me laying down the law — believe me, she understood — and after that I maybe saw Eric once or twice more during the '70's, and then only briefly.

According to my mom, Eric was fucked up by his folks divorcing, and he took it out on his mother. Also, and I never noticed this, in recent years mom said that early on she noticed that Eric had hearing issues and that was definitely a major part of why he acted out, but his mother just blew it off rather than get him help when alerted to the problem.

Mom is still sometimes in touch with Althea (now in her early 80's), so she hears about Eric as a 50-something. He's reportedly still an asshole, and he has a string of failed marriages, abused wives, and neglected children.

Monday, May 17, 2021

AN OVERDUE EPIPHANY

 

Just after waking up and while still in a muzzy still semi-asleep state, I thought to myself, "I am middle-aged." l had never thought of myself as such, even when moving out of my thirties, or even when I received my AARP card (when I got it I just laughed). I am currently 55 and turning 56 at the end of next month. My ongoing illnesses aside, I feel little different than I did in my youth. Yes, my body is manifesting the expected frailties of aging, such as joint pain, night sweats, et cetera, but I either wrote them off or accepted them with a "that's life" nonchalance. But yeah, I am middle-aged. It's a kick in the head.
 
Middle-age is defined as being between 40 and 60, so I'm technically five years away from being a senior citizen. My mother's line is known for their longevity, as exemplified by her, who is currently 88 and shows no sign of shutting down. Mom's mother's line, the James family, has a weird thing where all of the female die at 78, like some sort of built-in shutdown age,  while Mom has the Injun Smith genes from her father, and the oldest woman on his side of the family died at 104. While visiting with Mom recently, she noted her family's longevity and said that even though battered and weakened from that near-fatal car crash five years ago, and cancer in both lungs, she would not be surprised if she hung on into her '90's, and she's pushing 90. I have no idea how long I will live, but despite the isolation from my friends and little or no socializing, all the bullshit in the world at large, and my endless cycle of illness, life could be a lot worse.
 
Middle-age can give one new perspectives to consider, and I have found that with age there can come wisdom. Being stuck in hospitals or in the dialysis chair, I had a LOT of time for introspection, and I had time to think hard about how I lived my life and the many mistakes that I made. Now that I am older and having matured quite a lot due to how my life journey has gone over the past eight years, l am facing the world with a new attitude and will be going forward with intent to strive to live the life of serene urban warrior scribe. My wild years are now behind me and, to be honest, while they were fun, during that time I did some very stupid shit, and how I never got arrested remains a mystery. 
 
No more all-night tequila and weed binges and no more drunken dancing atop bars. No more hooking up with crazy women. No more self-destructive behavior in general. Without conscious intent, for around 23 years I was miserable deep inside, so I sought death by misadventure. Thankfully, my job anchoring the kitchen at the barbecue joint for two years allowed me to see clearly exactly what my behavior was and what it looked like, thanks to the antics of many of our bar's regulars. Witnessing their drunken, drugged-out shenanigans and dead end lifestyle was a wakeup call that I heeded, and the realization I had been like some of them set me straight. 
 
I still imbibe on occasion, and the same goes for getting high, but of late I have been content to sip my Earl Grey and contemplate what a chaotic journey my life has been. My only deep regret is that in my more immature days I did wrong by two of the best women I have ever been involved with and who would have been ideal steady companions and maybe even spouses. I used to fear real commitment, thanks to my formative years and witnessing the shit show that was my parents marriage, but now I'm over that but am alone thanks to my earlier self's immature and scared actions. I would give a lot for a female companion these days. I may be centered, but this urban warrior scribe is deeply lonely. 
 
But enough of my blathering. Get on with your own journey, and may it be an enlightened one.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

MUSINGS ON BONDAGE — 007: FROM WORST TO BEST

 
My Facebook page often ventures into discussion of the James Bond franchise with like-minded buffs, and the discussion often get heated. I prefer the more grounded entries, with a minimum of gadgets and groan-inducing puns and gags, while others eat that stuff up and favor stories where there more outlandish, the better. As NO TIME TO DIE, the pandemic-delayed 25th entry in the series, looms,  I was recently asked about my thoughts on the overall series, so after much pondering and shuffling of placement, here's my ranking of all 24 official James Bond films from Eon Productions, from least-favorite to the cream of the crop. Please write in with comments and your take.

24. DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971) 
 
James Bond: dockside rent boy.
 
 After the excellence of ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, George Lazenby vacated the role of 007, so the studio lured Sean Connery back by paying him an obscene amount of money, plus other assorted perks. Irredeemably idiotic trash that ignores the tragic events of the previous film's conclusion, this mess moves Bond into the 1970's, and it's a transition that just does not work.  A complete waste of Connery in his last film for the official series, this one includes a pointless moon buggy chase, a pair of acrobat females for Bond to battle, a pair of homosexual hitmen, and Charles Gray as a laughable iteration of Blofeld. For completists only. Otherwise, you can skip this and miss nothing.
 
23. A VIEW TO A KILL (1985) 
 
 Musical accompaniment: the Beach Boys' "California Girls." I shit you not.
 
Cringe-worthy garbage featuring a 130-year-old Roger Moore who hot dogs while snowboarding. Not even Christopher Walken and Grace Jones as the baddies can save this disaster. Exceptional theme song, though.
 
22. SPECTRE (2015) 
 
Bond endures the unspeakable torment of sitting through this film.
 
Terrible across the board, with the exception of a stunning opening on the Day of the Dead in Mexico. Wimpiest theme song of the entire run, and the idiotic development regarding Blofeld is worthy of earning the screenwriter a severe caning.
 
21. QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008) 
 
Bond valiantly attempts to flee from this film, but no such luck.
 
Marred by massive production difficulties, this is more like "Quantum of So What?" Incomprehensible, with headache-inducing editing. That said, I only saw this one once, so I would be willing to give it a second chance, but I fucking hated it upon seeing it on opening weekend.
 
20. THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999) 
 
Bond opts for death by torture, rather than be bored to death like the audience.
 
Mediocrity defined, all involved just phoned it in for this lifeless time-waster. Denise Richards, the human bobblehead, fails to be believable as a scientist, though I have to give it up for Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), the series first female Big Bad.
 
19. DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002)  
 
James, please... Invisible car or not, we see you trying to sneak out of this idiotic turd.
 
A festival of bad tropes with an awful theme song, an invisible car, a Chinese villain who turns into a white man, the unwelcome presence of Madonna as a fencing instructor (!!!), and Bond parasailing while surfing atop a tidal wave. Redeeming factor: Halle Berry as Jinx, rocking a nod to the Ursula Andress DR. NO bikini.
 
18. THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987) 
 
Though surrounded by a bevy of beauties, 007 fights to stay awake.
 
Great opening sequence that returns Bond to gritty basics, let down by every other aspect being boring and painfully overlong. Wholly unmemorable theme song by a-ha...SERIOUSLY???
 
17. LIVE AND LET DIE (1973) 
 
Surprisingly, not a scene from MANDINGO.
 
Bond and blaxploitation do not mix. Embarrassingly racially offensive, even when it came out, it also features possibly the most overrated theme song out of the lot — Yeah, I said it! Come at me! — and the noxious presence of "comic relief" redneck stereotype Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James). For a long time, before I rewatched the majority of the series, this ranked at the bottom of my list. Redeeming features: Jayne Seymour as the toothsome Solitaire, and the hilarious/ridiculous demise of Mr. Big.
 
16. MOONRAKER (1979) 
 
When 007 joined the Rebel Alliance in the struggle against the Empire.
 
Like LIVE AND LET DIE, this is the tragic result of the Bond series attempting to cash in on trends instead of setting them. Having nothing to do with the source novel aside from some character names, this is 007 in the wake of the ultra-blockbuster box office success of STAR WARS (1977) and by this point the series was too jokey and outlandish for its own good. Balls-out awful, but hilarious if approached as a piss-take.
 
15. OCTOPUSSY (1983) 
 
The tears of a clown in the employ of MI-6.
 
Barely passable, ridiculous plot, forgettable theme song, and Bond un-ironically disguised as a circus clown. (see above) Acceptable if you have nothing better to do on a rainy afternoon.
 
14. GOLDENEYE (1995) 
 
007 meets Xenia Onatopp and her homicidal vagina.
 
 Decent but overlong and occasionally dull, but somewhat redeemed by the homicidal hilarity of Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen).
 
13. THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) 
 
Having banged every female on the planet, Bond explores new horizons.
 
 I'm gonna get shit for this, but this one is simply far too '70's/disco era for my tastes, plus its an almost beat-for-beat remake of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, which struck me as the height of creative laziness. I also was not fond of Jaws (Richard Kiel), a hulking assassin who's pretty much a cartoonish "upgrade" of GOLDFINGER's Oddjob.
 
12. THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974) 
 
It was 1974 and everybody was kung fu fightin', even in a James Bond movie.
 
Admittedly mediocre/bad, but mindless fun, this was released the year after ENTER THE DRAGON and Bruce Lee captivated the common zeitgeist, so, much like it had done with blaxploitation in LIVE AND LET DIE, the franchise again mined a popular trend, this time the then-still-exotic East and chopsocky ass-whuppin'. Bond travels to (among other locales) Hong Kong, where he almost gets his ass handed to him by an entire martial arts school, until his bacon is saved by the most badassed pair of schoolgirls you have ever seen (see above). The rest of the story is mostly an excuse for another travelogue, but come on. It's all about Bond versus Christopher Lee. It's one of the few times when I genuinely rooted for the bad guy to win. Extra points for introducing the world to Herve Villechaise as the diminutive henchman Nick Nack. However, points majorly detracted for the unwelcome return of Sheriff J.W. Pepper, and the unforgivable inclusion of a slide whistle sound effect over and otherwise spectacular car stunt.
 
11. THUNDERBALL (1965) 
 
She's a man, baby!
 
One of the definitive entries, sometimes for all the wrong reasons, (which I have discussed at length here) this  is the first of the extravagant 007 travelogue spectacles, as well as being the first overlong installment, which is in no way helped by the turgid pacing. Features two of the all-time hottest Bond girls — Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) and Dominque "Domino" Derval (Claudine Auger) — a terrific opening sequence, a villain who's as cool as 007 (Emilio Largo, played by Adolfo Celi), and my pick for the best of the theme songs. Tom Jones reportedly fainted after hitting that incredible sustained final note, and I totally believe it.
 
10. DR. NO (1962) 
 
Meet James Bond (Sean Connery).
 
It all had to start somewhere, and while it has its moments, it's primitive, basic, and has aged/dated rather badly, but we do get the introduction of the Sean Connery Bond, and he is nothing less than mesmerizing. The classic James Bond theme instrumental is introduced, and the film is pretty much stolen by Ursula Andress in what can only be described as an era-defining bikini. An unexpected hit that spawned a franchise which continues just shy of sixty years later.
 
9. YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967) 
 
What the...?!!!? Where's 007? And who the hell is this Japanese guy???
 
 Bond fakes his death (for no good reason), goes to Japan to investigate SPECTRE stealing space capsules in a bid to ignite WWIII, flies the awesome Little Nellie (an autogyro with more ordnance than your average battleship), gets married, and receives plastic surgery that turns him into the least-convincing Japanese man this side of Mickey Rooney in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S. Sporting a great theme song from Nancy Sinatra and some incredible sets by Ken Adam, this is one of the definitive entries whose tropes are frequently parodied. (The first Austin Powers movie cribs heavily from this.) It's a lot of fun, if occasionally sluggish at points, despite it coming off like a lavish episode of THUNDERBIRDS and Sean Connery very obviously fed up with being in these films.
 
8. TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997)  
 
HK action legend Michelle Yeoh as secret agent Wai Lin: as badassed as 007.
 
My pick as Pierce Brosnan's most fun effort as Bond, this features memorable set pieces, a terrific theme song from Cheryl Crow, and, Michelle Yeoh as the coolest and toughest Bond girl of the lot.
 
7. LICENCE TO KILL (1989) 
 
Worst wedding day ever.
 
Bond is at his most savage and Flemingesque as he goes off the reservation to avenge the mutilation-by-shark of friend and colleague Felix Leiter (David Hedison), whose wife was also gang-raped and murdered (on their wedding day no less). This one polarizes Bond fans thanks to its hard edge and shockingly vicious violence, but I'm a reader of the Fleming novels, so I found most of the films up to this point to be lacking the sadistic nastiness of Bond's creator, therefore I dug this. It has a great SCARFACE-influenced villain played by Robert Davi and bears a sense of tension throughout as 007 pursues his vendetta without the approval of MI-6. Very good until the weak final third and the questionable inclusion of Wayne Newton as a superfluous minor villain.
 
6. FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981) 
 
Bond, ridding himself of a pesky assassin.
 
After the cartoonish excesses of MOONRAKER, it was back to basics, resulting in what is hands down Moore's best Bond effort. Minimal gadgets and quips, plus a nastier edge that evokes Fleming. A bit '80's-dated but still very good.
 
5. GOLDFINGER (1964)  
 
BOND: Do you expect me to talk?
GOLDFINGER (jovially): No, Mister Bond...I expect you to DIE."
 
Arguably the most iconic film in the series, Its every aspect carved the basic Bond template in stone, which was a bad thing because they more or less repeatedly remade it for the next two decades. It's also something of an oddity because Bond spends the majority of the running time a prisoner of the superb title villain, but that's offset by classic characters like Pussy Galore, Oddjob, the rolling arsenal that is the legendary Q Division Aston Martin DB5, John Barry's stellar score, and Shirley Bassey's indelible title song. This is the goods, kids, and if your mom saw it when it came out, Sean Connery in this made her wetter than a swamp.
 
4. SKYFALL (2012) 
 
London calling.
 
The second-best of Daniel Craig's run and a high point for the franchise. After the disappointment of QUANTUM OF SOLACE, I went to this with the lowest of expectations, but what I got was a superb modern entry and one of the very finest of the series. Solid plot, tough-as-nails 007, a great villain whose revenge plot against Judi Densch's M is understandable, and the full-force return of the Aston Martin DB5.
 
3. ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969) 
 
Sean Connery is out. Enter George Lazenby.
 
The first Bond without Sean Connery, this has one of the strongest plots in the run, and newcomer George Lazenby does an adequate job as 007 in what would be his sole turn in the role. Too bad he didn't stick around, because he likely would have improved had he done more entries. The plot hews close to the source novel and this would have taken the #1 slot on my list if Connery had starred, but that minor quibble is made up for by brisk direction and incredible cinematography, a quick pace that belies its long running time, Telly Savalas as arguably the most formidable iteration of Blofeld, and Diana Rigg as the most tragic of the Bond women. The instrumental title theme is one of John Barry's best, and he kind of ripped himself off when more or less remaking it as the theme for the posthumous Bruce Lee film, GAME OF DEATH (1978).
 
2. CASINO ROYALE (2006) 
 
Enter the blonde Bond.
 
A superb, shattering modernization of the first Bond novel, as well as a soft reboot for the series, with not a missed note in the whole endeavor. Basically Bond's origin story, this one's so good, you won't care that Bond has a face like a bulldog and is a blonde. All of the elements fire on all cylinders, resulting in a top-notch 007 thriller.
 
1. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)  
 
The rarest of the rare: an immediate sequel that far exceeds its predecessor. 
 
The second in the series and the most no-bullshit Bond of the entire run, as well as one of the best spy films ever made .This Hitchcock-influenced effort hews close to the source novel, largely eschews over-the-top gadgets and quips, and gives us a solid Cold War-era straight espionage thriller with excellent villains and arguably the best/most realistic fight scene in the entire series. Though it may come off kind of slow by modern standards, the strength here is the plot and the performances, all of which are top shelf. Especially memorable are Bond's Turkish ally, Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz), Istanbul's more fun answer to MI-6's M; terrifying ultra-butch Russian SPECTRE agent Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), whose overtly predatory dykiness must have been quite shocking some sixty years ago; psycho hitman Red Grant (Robert Shaw), and the lovely honey pot Soviet agent Tatiana Romanova (Daniella Bianchi), who is unwittingly played by SPECTRE and ends up in it way over her head. Simply put, this is everything a Cold War-era populist spy thriller should be, and it is in every an improvement on its predecessor.

And here's hoping that NO TIME TO DIE ends the Daniel Craig era with a bang, rather than a whimper!

From "8 James Bomb Bomb Movies" (MAD MAGAZINE #165, March 1974)